Blu [click to read] certainly is valedictorian of the 2007 class. This Los Angeles emcee can’t slow down, and releasing project after project, he excelled quickly from rap fan to gracing XXL covers, and collaborating with a crop of peers that just want to share his spotlight. After the magic of Below The Heavens [click to read] was followed with the mixed results on C.R.A.C.‘s The Piece Talks [click to read], Blu raises the bar again, largely with the help of low profile producer Mainframe. The duo links for a heap of life lessons, concept characters and some of the best production to come out of underground Los Angeles since Cut Chemist and Madlib.
Initially premiering with singles on two late 2006 compilations, Johnson & Jonson [click to watch] is said to have sat around for over a year until increased interest allowed for release. The case or not, some of the album’s offerings show a greater depth and level of uncertainty to the promising emcee. “The Only Way” chronicles a hopeful view from the bottom, as Blu talks family loss, financial struggles and a difficult Hip Hop industry. “A Perfect Picture” is a weed-induced moment of Blu bragging about his pimp-hand, while Mainframe fiddles with bugged out beat, influenced by classic MF DOOM production. By far, the album’s highlight is its bonus track, “Hold On John.” Pulling vocals from… shall-we-say the most famous John to ever touch a microphone, Blu presents his equivalent of Talib Kweli‘s “Get By.” The song finds the emcee drinking, smoking and doubting the world around him, with some encouragement from the ’60s musical genius, and a glimmer, as we’re watching Blu grow monthly, that this too, shall pass.
Just as 2007 asked, “who the hell is Blu?” this year, the question might be appropriate of his producer. “Get The Name Right” stands beside Ghostface‘s classic “Mighty Healthy” for its cluttered arrangement of samples that feels too good and too chunky to be made after 1990. Album opener “Finally” though, proves that Mainframe doesn’t need comparisons. Rather than create a dope loop and let it roll out, the dynamic shifts in each song challenge Blu‘s rhyming, alter his deliveries and make this project feel like it took years to make. Outstanding sampling from Soul, Folk and Rock genres, along with Blu‘s ability to use timeless subject matter in his rhymes make this album feel very ’70s-inspired, and the Los Angeles sunshine travels through the disc. Just as Noodles did on Freeway‘s “I Cry,” or Dilla with “Hit Me With A Strap,” Mainframe lets the vocal samples interplay with Blu on “Mama Always Told Me” and “Hold On John,” a signature move that he executes as well as any producer has in the craft, and hopefully a will-be trademark.
Releasing material as fast as Blu has, the only way he can keep his audience interested after launch is through creative and unique projects. Certainly, Blu has. Like Talib and Hi Tek, Vast Aire and Vordul Mega, Hip Hop collaborators make projects and let fans decide whether the chemistry endures. Johnson & Jonson is a bloodshot, bedroom-made Hip Hop album that’s smooth as the powders and oils it swipes its name from.